Handwriting for Kids.  Separation of the two Sides of the Hand.

When you watch a top tennis player you can only marvel at the precision, force and control with which they hit the ball.  It is extraordinary how they can hit with such power when the head of the racket is more half a meter from the end of their hand.  The motor skills that go into being a top tennis player are developed over years, but there is one thing that has to be in place for them to achieve at the level that they do.  And that is that they have to be anchored to the ground with rock solid stability to give their arm a point from which to move.  And there are some real similarities when it comes to handwriting for kids.  Our kids have two sides to their hands, which is often referred to as separation of the two sides of the hand.

An activity to promote hand separation in a blog post from The Happy Handwriter on handwriting for kids.

To achieve precision tennis players need a point of stability.  And this is exactly the same with handwriting for kids.  We cannot achieve the precise refinement of movement of the fingers to control the pencil, if we don’t have a point of stability from which to work.

There is a lot of talk about core stability and that is important.  There is also a lot of talk about shoulder girdle stability and that too is important.  But as important as those points of stability are, the hand also needs its own point of stability.

Handwriting for kids | Separation of the two sides of the hand

This brings us to the separation of the two sides of the hand.  There is the little finger side of the hand.  This is the arch made up of the 4th and 5th fingers.  At The Happy Handwriter we call these two fingers the tuck-down-two®.  Then there is the thumb side of the hand,  with the thumb, index and middle fingers which we call the-three-friends®.

For the-three-friends to move, they need a stable point from which to work.  Because the hand is so far from the body, the stability of the trunk and shoulder is insufficient to offer the final point of stability the fingers need in order to achieve the precision required for handwriting.  That point of stability has to come from the hand.  And that is why the arch formed by the-tuck-down two is so important.

To look at this in completeness, we do need to analyse the movements that take place as a child is writing

  1. Movement from the shoulder as a child is, for example, drawing a line with a ruler
  2. Pivoting on the elbow as the child adjusts their hand to move it to the beginning of a new line
  3. The movement of the forearm slowly moving across the page as writing takes place
  4. Subtle movements of the wrist that repositions the hand so the fingers can connect with the page at the correct point
  5. The pivoting movement over the point on which the hand rests on the page
  6. The movement of the fingers. These finger movements are independent of the hand
  7. And other movements. There are always more!

So the points of stability include: the shoulder, the elbow, the forearm and hand resting on the table, the wrist, and the tuck-down-two.

Today we are honing in on the separation of the two sides of the hand into the stable side and the moving side and their implication for handwriting for kids.

Handwriting for kids | The resting place

Along with the stable arch of the tuck down two, the hand also needs to rest on the page.  Unless the hand is stabilised and resting, there is little chance of the refined finger movements emerging.

It takes a huge amount of effort and energy to manipulate the pencil while the hand is not resting on the page.  So, the hand needs to rest on the page on what I tell the children is called "the resting place.”  It is the point on which the hand pivots to achieve the subtle wrist movements.

Diagram from The Happy Handwriter showing the hand separation with the 4th and 5th fingers tucked down and the thumb index and middle fingers ready for holding the pencil in an article on handwriting for kids. There is also an arrow showing where the hand rests on the page.

Does the stable arch develop on its own?

Sometimes.  And sometimes not.  We can’t always say why it hasn’t developed.  Certainly, the weight bearing that takes place while a baby is crawling facilitates the muscle development.  There is so much development that takes place as the baby shifts between the four point crawling position into sitting.  They roll over the little finger side of their hand which activates the muscle development on that side of the hand.  This muscle development is further enhanced when the baby crawls while holding onto a small toy at the same time.  Developing hands that are swiping and pointing rather than grasping and moulding around three dimensional objects, are not going to develop this stable arch in the same way.

While we can speculate as to why this hasn’t developed, what we need most is to help our children who have yet to develop the hand separation and the stable arch.

The pompom trick

A technique that OT’s use to develop this arch is to hold a pompom or small disc in the tuck-down-two.  This is a great little technique.  I have used it and it works.  But sometimes for our children who are battling, adding in something for them to hold is just another moving part that is one too many things to manage.  A child with a planning problem is probably not going to respond well to being asked to hold a pompom in the tuck-down-two while all their attention is focused on battling to manipulate the scissors.

We need to look for activities that lend themselves to the development of this stable arch without superimposing too much contrived structure on them while they are doing it.

Developing the stable arch for handwriting in kids

Spray bottles are great for developing the stable arch of the hand.  The-three-friends move while the tuck-down-two hold onto the neck of the bottle.

An example of a spray bottle activity for developing hand separation when working on handwriting for kids. Use crepe paper and a spray bottle for this ink print with stunning colours.

Please know it isn’t as easy as grabbing the first bottle you can lay your hands on.  Spray bottles were not designed for us kid people to develop the stable arch!  They were largely designed to dispense cleaning liquids.  And so the designers of these bottles don’t know that while our children are holding with the tuck-down-two around the neck of the bottle, we don’t want their fingers to get pinched by the trigger as it is squeezed in!  You are going to get nowhere close to achieving your goal if your child pinches their fingers every time they squeeze!  You can ask them to tuck their fingers into their palm, but it doesn’t offer the same level of control over the bottle.  And again, it is another instruction, another superimposed rule when we really want the movement we are looking for to be inherent in the activity.  Be sure to test out your bottle and make sure that you are not setting up your child to pinch their fingers!

Take a look at this awesome spray bottle activity here!


And then there is cutting.  Yes.  Again!

The tuck-down-two sit comfortably in the palm of the hand while the-three-friends get their work out.  I have nothing more to stay about this, except that our children need to cut to the moon and back.  The benefits of cutting are essential for muscle development for handwriting for kids.

Apart from downloading our cutting sheet, you can pop over to Pinterest and take a look at loads of cutting activities.

Shape Paper Tearing

Tearing out shapes is going to require the-three-friends to move, while the tuck-down-two provide stability.  This is a more demanding activity and so perfect when you are looking for an upgrade to challenge an older child.

handwriting in kids, separation of the two sides of the hand, hand separation

Points of stability and mobility are important for handwriting for kids.  We need to be aware of them and to work on developing them to help our children establish the best handwriting foundations they can.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

Cutting skills development is an essential foundation for handwriting for kids. Get this panda scissor skills download to develop hand separation in kids.

Download your copy of “Cutting Sheets to Develop Separation of the two Sides of the Hand" by entering your details in the form below:

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In the mood to shop for hand separation activities?